The Effects Of Opioids

Addiction to Opioids

Humanity has a long history with opioids, stretching back to antiquity. While some ancient remedies, such as mercury and mouse paste have been completely abandoned, opium and its derivatives are key painkillers in today’s prescription medicine market – and they are the key to understanding the country’s current opioid crisis.

Opium is the sap of the poppy plant, known for vibrant red and yellow flowers, and its black edible seeds. After centuries of use as an analgesic, a German chemist derived the alkaloid morphine from opium, and this was further developed into heroin decades thereafter.

Through morphine and heroin, Western medicine revolutionized anesthesia and painkilling – at the cost of a rising addiction problem. Thus, opioids became a controlled substance, obtainable only for medical or research purposes, through a prescription.


What Are Opioids?

Opioids are substances that bind directly to the brain’s opioid receptors and induce a state of euphoria coupled with powerful analgesic effects. Opioids are defined by the symptoms produced by morphine and other opium derivatives: happiness, pain relief, and slowed breathing. Aside from natural derivatives like morphine and heroin, synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil exist as well. These are extremely dangerous substances, potent enough to mimic a nerve gas.

Opioids are widely considered the world’s most dangerous kind of drug. Most opioids are extremely addictive and very potent and are responsible for millions of deaths worldwide – nearly 40 million in 2013 alone.

In the US alone, opioids caused over 142,000 overdoses between July 2016 and September 2017. In 2016, this class of drugs caused over 64,000 deaths. Even when survived, opioid overdoses can cause lasting damage, from memory loss and cognitive damage to permanent paralysis.

When opioids bind to the brain, one of the side effects is slowed breathing. This is amplified by depressants such as benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax) and alcohol. Illegal heroin is often also cut with more potent synthetic opioids to save costs and improve potency, leading to dangerous results such as badly mixed batches and extreme concentrations, resulting in more overdoses. When the brain is flooded with opioids or a combination of several drugs inducing this respiratory slowdown, the body passes out and you stop breathing.

In an overdose, the lack of oxygen can cause brain damage and death. It happens quickly, and often.


The Addictiveness Of Opioids

The biggest danger behind opioids is not their tendency to kill, but their tendency to addict, which often leads to death. Opioids are extremely potent and leave a lasting impression on the brain, making people far more susceptible to drug abuse than most other drugs.

This change in the way your brain works progressively increases as you continue using the drug, until you develop a full-blown physical dependency. This is defined as a tipping point when trying to stop leads to painful withdrawal symptoms, as your body has adapted to a consistent stream of opioids in its system, to cope with this powerful drug.

Emotional dependency is also possible – people may abuse illegal painkillers to deal with emotional pain, or stress, or to calm down after an argument. It becomes a habit, one they cannot break because they rely on a regular hit of chemical happiness.

Most cases of addiction are a mixture of both types of dependency – and in both cases, it’s important to seek help as quickly as possible.


Surviving Opioid Withdrawal

Although opioids are very addictive and dangerously fatal due to the abundance of imported synthetic opioids, opioid withdrawal is not as dangerous as alcohol or benzodiazepine withdrawal. The body does not treat opioids as a toxic substance, and withdrawal symptoms – while painful – are rarely fatal. They are still dangerous.

It is always best to undergo withdrawal under medical supervision, in a treatment facility or clinic, rather than at home without proper healthcare or emergency equipment. Opioid withdrawal is best described as a painful flu, lasting a few days to a week. Unassisted withdrawal may lead to a relapse, due to pain and cravings.


Is One Hit Enough For Addiction?

Because of the potency of many opioids – from painkillers to heroin – there is a myth that a single hit is enough to “ruin your life” or trigger an addiction. There is no drug that gets you addicted in one hit – but drugs like heroin do make your brain susceptible to more drug use, basically putting you “in the mood” to try said drug again.

Usually, addiction is a slippery slope. In some cases, it starts as a use of medication and turns into abuse. In other cases, it might be experimentation or peer pressure, eventually turning into a habit.

Not everyone on painkillers gets addicted – in fact, only a fraction gets addicted due to prescribed medication. Most opioid addicts today start with heroin, and prescription pain medication is not the only cause for today’s crisis.

But that does not change the fact that there are too many prescription painkillers in America’s healthcare system, and that pharmaceutical companies pressured doctors into selling more drugs, while utilizing misleading statements to market painkillers and anti-anxiety medication to garner a greater profit, leading to an abundance of unused drugs landing on the streets – or more accurately, floated from real patients to their relatives and friends.

Chronic pain may not be adequately solved with opioids, and effective, personalized pain management is a healthier and safer option to creating a better quality of life in many patients struggling with long-term pain. However, people who take pain meds do not usually get addicted, even if some do.


Opioid Treatment Today

In the past, addiction was a problem medicine was not quite sure how to address. It wasn’t until the stigmatization of addiction dropped considerably before we began revolutionizing our concepts of addiction and addiction treatment.

While rehab and sober living has existed for decades, new psychotherapy methods and addiction medication can help opioid addicts today find a personalized and safe way to beat the addiction, and eventually be rid of it completely.

There is no single effective path towards long-term abstinence, but there are many methods available to help professionals craft the right path for you.

What Are the Issues with Synthetic Drugs?

synthetic drugs | Transcend Texas

Synthetic drugs can be frightening. They take lives, alter reality, ruin families. And many of them have no use other than to corrupt and hurt, for profit. It’s no wonder that when something like that enters society, it’s treated as a malicious entity, a problem we need to fight with all our might.

But drugs aren’t easy to fight. There is no way to go to war against them and win. Winning against drugs means creating a world where people never need them, and before we can do that, we have a lot work to do within our households, communities and governments.

So, for now, we all seek to do our best to help those affected by drugs, and help our families stay whole and survive. To help with that, drugs are made illegal, and we teach our children what they look like and how to avoid them.

But that’s becoming harder and harder. Synthetic drugs have been hitting the streets for years, and not just through clubs or street corners, but through gas stations, boutique stores, and dubiously-legal brand names.

With innocent-sounding names for products like bath salts, potpourri and spice, it’s easy to mistake what could be one of the most dangerous drugs in the world for nothing more than herbal incense. And it’s behind labels like these that the world of synthetic drugs flourishes, and grows.


What Are Synthetic Drugs?

Synthetic drugs are, for the most part, self-explanatory. They’re man-made chemical compounds that largely mimic the chemical composition of natural drugs (or, to be more precise, drugs that are extracted from plant material). Where pure cocaine is a product of the coca plant and heroin is a product of opium poppy, drugs like fentanyl and synthetic cannabinoids are made in laboratories, designed and formulated to give a much more potent, much more powerful, and much more dangerous high.

Unlike drugs that require entire plantations to produce en masse, synthetic drugs can be made with a much smaller footprint, as part of a much smaller operation. They’re sold online as chemical components or research material, and sold under a semi-legal status because labs keep coming up with new chemical combinations, making it harder and harder for law enforcement to keep track and figure out what’s just hit the market.

Very prominent and unfortunately common examples include synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic opioids, and synthetic cathinones. These drugs are also commonly known as spice, K2, Mr. Smiley, bath salts, Joker, Black Mamba, and hundreds of other names. Synthetic cannabis is sold as plant material sprayed unevenly with a coating of cannabinoids. Synthetic opioids are commonly sold as prescription drugs, but are also coming out of laboratories in China and Mexico, as fentanyl and carfentanil, the latter of which has recently been described to be so deadly that it classifies as a chemical weapon.


Explaining the Explosion in Synthetic Drugs Today

Synthetic drugs have existed for decades, and are part and parcel of chemistry. The discovery of early synthetic psychedelics like LSD, and the popularity of MDMA (ecstasy) paved the way for other drugs to be created in labs rather than fields.

Fentanyl in the 80s, the re-emergence of meth in the 90s. While prescription drugs and methamphetamine are seen separate from the more recently troubling synthetic drugs, they’re the same basic thing.


Synthetic Drugs vs. Designer Drugs

Technically, synthetic drugs and designer drugs are two sides of the same coin – a distinction between the two wouldn’t be much more than pure semantics. But in common terms, synthetic drugs refer to the wave of drugs that in recent years have been causing accidental overdoses and poisoning. Designer drugs are analogous to controlled substances, or simply designed to get the user high, and they include all synthetic drugs including ecstasy, LSD and methamphetamine.

Nowadays, the materials for many designer drugs make it throughout the world under the guise of research material, freely sold and illegally used to manufacture drug analogues to existing controlled substances. Although laws exist to prohibit the sale of these drug analogues, it’s not illegal to sell research chemicals.

This isn’t just a problem with cannabinoids and cathinones. Stimulants, anabolic steroids, psychedelics, benzodiazepines and nootropics are all being synthetically manufactured and sold online, or through small stores locally. These drugs are often untested, incredibly potent, and potentially toxic or ridden with side-effects.

Measures have been taken in some countries to stem the issue, such as introducing new laws to regulate any psychoactive compounds or create a new class for unidentified or poorly studied controlled substances, to more quickly institute legal means with which to prohibit their sale and use.


Why Synthetic Drugs Are Even Worse

Fighting against these drugs isn’t just a tough job – it’s getting harder in a world that’s growing ever smaller with modern-day technology. That’s why it’s even more important, now than ever, to get clean and stay clean. Drug overdoses from heroin are growing in number not only because of an increased number of heroin addicts, but because what’s hitting the street is stronger and deadlier than before, and too often, someone takes a hit of something they couldn’t handle.

Synthetic cannabis, which is sold as a fake or legal weed, is several times more potent and far deadlier than the real thing, inducing vomiting, hallucinations and sometimes death. And bath salts have made headlines several times over the past few years for inducing psychosis.

Beyond their capacity to do much more damage to the human body than their counterparts, synthetic drugs are also troubling to fight on a legal basis since new drugs are hitting the streets at a rapid pace. Law enforcement has had trouble playing catch-up to the point that several dollar store businesses have tried suing over damages from synthetic drug raids, due to their dubious legal status.

The first step to getting ahead of the game is education and elucidation. Parents and kids need to understand what these drugs are, what they often look like, and how they’re marketed. They need to check ingredients and be informed of chemical analogues to dangerous drugs. And active drug users need to understand that these drugs can be life-ending, and extremely dangerous to them.



NIDA’s Nora Volkow Discusses Addiction on “The Open Mind”

NIDA's Nora Volkow Discusses Addiction on "The Open Mind" | Transcend Texas

NIDA director Nora Volkow recently appeared on PBS’s “The Open Mind,” where she discusses the neurological science behind addiction’s root causes. In the featured episode below, Volkow  specifically talks about opioid addiction and treatment.